The House Education Committee recently voted on new legislation for the expansion of the Education Achievement Authority. Despite strong resistance by Democrats and various education interest groups, House Bill 4369 will soon make its way to the House floor. Critics have described the EAA as a hostile takeover of local education systems while supporters claim it is necessary to turn around failing schools. Rhetoric aside, the jury is still out on the efficacy of the EAA as it has only been in operation for less than a year. However, the Louisiana Recovery School District is a system that has been in place since 2004 and can give us insight into how the EAA in Michigan could look.. While the Recovery School District (RSD) was signed into law before Hurricane Katrina, the devastation in New Orleans created the opportunity for the RSD to oversee the turnaround of the New Orleans public school system. Though the RSD is a statewide authority and has recently expanded beyond the borders of New Orleans, much of the evidence of its results comes from its post-Katrina takeover. According to a report released by the RSD, their system focuses on five major principles:
• The Role of Government: Government as regulator and monitor of results, ensuring equity, and rarely directly running schools.
• Expanding Great Schools: Allowing schools with successful records to expand.
• Transforming failing schools: Academically underperforming schools are transferred into another operator or closed down.
• Family Choice: Creating diverse school choices which allow families to match their desired learning environment to a school.
• Educator Choice: Allowing teachers to pick the school they are employed at based on compatibility of teaching philosophies and educational systems.
At a basic level, these principles embody a market system for both educators and families. An ideal school system created through these defined goals would have a variety of independently run schools that embodied a variation of educational philosophies. Parents would have free reign to move their child between schools to find the right one for them while teachers would be free of union regulations. Competition would exist between schools to continuously improve academic standards as there is an incentive to succeed through authorization of more charters and a disincentive through the potential for closure. Part of this is in play now, as the RSD tries to avoid directly running schools. Instead, they rely on charters signed with local groups and national management companies to manage most of their buildings. Certainly, the RSD has results that it uses to show academic achievement gains and success stories since its inception but there is no clear exit strategy for schools once they have shown academic success.
Currently, the EAA exists in a more gray area than the RSD does. Billed as a turnaround mechanism, the EAA is supposedly designed to take on the bottom 5% of academically performing schools. Originally targeted at just Detroit, the new legislation mentioned above will further expand the authority of the EAA to the entire state (though cap the number of schools at 50). While the EAA does have charters for 3 of the schools it manages, the rest are directly controlled by the agency. One of the key principles of the EAA that does mirror the RSD is in greater autonomy for schools to choose how they operate. This includes longer school days, different teaching approaches, and what kinds of extracurricular activities are offered. Similarly to the RSD, the EAA can issue its own charters to operators. Michigan already has a vibrant charter market, including a strong for-profit charter management presence. Given the relative youth of the EAA, many of its policies and goals have yet to be formulated. Yet critics have pointed out that there is no clear exit strategy for schools, much like the RSD.
Will Michigan turn into a system of independently managed charter schools with government only being involved in the regulatory process? Probably not anytime soon, but as far as how closely the EAA will mirror the RSD that has yet to be seen. Yet if one is interested in how a state takeover of academically underperforming schools would look, the Recovery School District is probably the best example of such a system and it is not hard to see the parallels between it and the Education Achievement Authority.
Brinson, Dana, Lyria Boast, Bryan Hassel, Neerav Kingsland. 2012. "New Orleans-Style Education Reform: A Guide for Cities." New Schools for New Orleans. http://www.newschoolsforneworleans.org/documents/03012012NOLAstylereform.pdf (January 2012)